Scratching the surface

Alycia Cazzola & Melanie Drummond, Wellington Catholic DSB

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a primary math teacher is to hear students tell us their thinking, whether it be how they figured out a word problem using subtraction or why 2 objects are similar. Using Scratch allows all students to articulate their thinking, share their ideas with others in the class and practice coding at the same time. Just like differentiating reading instruction we have found Scratch to be a beneficial way to allow students to express their math thinking in a creative and innovative manner.

Before beginning to use the Scratch program as a tool to express mathematical thinking we gave students a chance to use Scratch in other ways. They became comfortable entering code, making mistakes and playing with the available features.



Scratch dialogues

Then, our students used Scratch to code mental math dialogues.

Here is what the code looked like.

Scratch is a new, exciting program to all of us in the classroom!  We couldn’t anticipate where the kids would go with the program.  Projects were very open-ended and even students who aren’t normally successful in math achieved some sort of success using Scratch.  We recognized all the achievements because everything was new to us. Their thinking was unpredictable and their projects even more so. Don’t be afraid to let your students experiment, they will show you things you would not discover yourself!


At home

We also asked students to share their learning at home. And we asked parents to send feedback to the teacher:

  1. What did you child share with you?
  2. What did you learn?

Organizing parent comments into themes can make a song. Here are two songs from our classrooms, with our students singing their parents’ comments.

 Learn so fast!

 Keen to learn more

(Parody of Taylor Swift’s “We are never ever getting back together”)

My child told me they learned
how to program a computer
to make the cat move
and draw stuff like shapes
she said it was cool!

My son’s first time with Scratch
was tricky
but once he got it it was easy
my daughter made her own block
that drew hexagons and circles

He is interested
in learning different ways
and tools to do math
programming can be fun
it’s a cool tool and very interactive

It was nice how he explained
his experience with Scratch
I realized technology is crazy
he can learn so fast on, so fast on computers
it was nice how he explained Scratch

I learned that my son
can do this program at home
to become a young programmer
I learned to create my own shape
following what my daughter shared

Changing sounds, colours
and degrees
I learned a lot of things about coding
that I did not know before
you can do even art

We’re impressed
he is learning geometry
using a computer program
and getting excited about math
using coding to move a cat

It was nice how she explained
her experience with Scratch
I realized technology is crazy
she can learn so fast on, so fast on computers
it was nice how she explained Scratch

(Parody of Steve Miller’s “The joker”)

My child shared with me
how to log into Scratch
create squares and repeating circles
added sounds, changed directions
and saved her projects

I had no idea what she was doing
but she made the cat move
created multi-coloured patterns
it looked cool
she had a lot of fun doing it

my daughter is excited
about her ability to code
enjoys the strategy of trial and error
and is very keen to learn even more
my daughter is very excited

I learned creating designs is tricky
codes are commands
we even tried our own
you can make different shapes
and coding is really cool!

my son was very interested
to show me how the program works
to change directions and get new results
you have to be specific
about the language you use

my son is excited
about his ability to code
enjoys the strategy of trial and error
and is very keen to learn even more
my son is very excited


Cross-curricular connections

Cross-curricular connections were easy. For example, we also adapted this activity for children to use Scratch to code dialogues during our anti-bullying week.

Teachers can give students scenarios in Health and ask them to solve the problem.  For example in Grade 3 students learn about Healthy Living.  The curriculum for Health includes this objective: describe methods that may be used instead of or in combination with medication to maintain good health and prevent or treat various health problems (e.g., getting more sleep to help get rid of a cold; getting more fresh air and physical activity to relieve headaches; eating healthier meals as recommended in Canada’s Food Guide; using natural healing practices). Using Scratch allows students to communicate their understanding about such topics in an engaging way. Including parents is a sure way to get kids to buy-in.

The parents of the students we teach have expressed that they are happy and appreciative of the extra time and effort we are giving students to help them develop a deeper level of computational thinking. Many parents have expressed gratitude that their children are getting more comfortable using technology.  Both parents and students are very excited about learning to code. Some students have created a Scratch account and have made their own projects at home!